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Bill moving impeachment trials to Senate causes consternation among some lawmakers

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A bill shifting impeachment hearings from the Missouri Supreme Court to the state Senate caused quite the kerfuffle Monday night, with some Democratic lawmakers implying Republicans didn’t do enough to advocate for the change during the last gubernatorial administration.

Proposed by Republican state Sen. Ed Emery, SB 9 would grant the Senate the ability to try impeachments with a required a two-thirds vote by the senators in order to impeach, if approved by voters via constitutional amendment. It would require the state Supreme Court’s chief justice to preside over proceedings involving the governor or lieutenant governor.

The House would still have the responsibility of impeachment. Under current law, the Missouri Supreme Court has the power to try impeachments of certain officials thanks to a constitutional amendment ratified in 1945; the governor and lieutenant governor are tried by a special commission.

“Impeachment is not a judiciary product. It is a political process,” Emery said, adding history makes it “clear that impeachment does not happen in a courtroom, no one goes to jail, no one gets a fine; it is simply a process of removing an offender from office.”

“Where else does the Supreme Court have the power to remove somebody from office and not send them to jail?” he contended.

The proposal received some impassioned pushback from Democratic senators Monday evening, as well as proposed amendments to the bill. Ultimately SB 9 was laid over Monday evening, but Emery told The Missouri Times he’s working with his Senate colleagues to bring the bill back up for approval. He’s spoken with the Floor Leader but doesn’t have a concrete timeline yet, Emery said. 

After some discussion on the Senate floor, Sen. Jason Holsman, a Democrat, offered an amendment that would require a three-fourths threshold to impeach a governor, yet left in place the two-thirds requirement for other offices. Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp took it a step further with her proposed amendment: 75 percent of senators would be required to impeach any state office with the two-thirds left in place for others.

That three-fourths threshold would give some protection to an official from an opposing party, Holsman contended. He also argued there should be a high threshold to remove someone from office.

“I tend to trust this chamber, and so I don’t necessarily have a deep-seated problem with doing that, but I want to put some protections in place to make sure that politics don’t rule the day if that were to ever happen,” he said.

Emery said he would be willing to compromise with Democrats in changing that threshold.

Aside from offering legislative fixes and suggestions, senators engaged in heated debate over the proposed change — with some suggesting Emery and his party weren’t “diligent” enough to push for the change in previous years.

“Did you put this much effort that you’re doing right now into bringing this bill to the floor during the time of the corruption that occurred in this state under Gov. [Eric] Greitens?” Sen. Jamilah Nasheed asked.

Emery maintained he’s pushed for versions of the bill for multiple years throughout his legislative tenure.

“If this is a sincere move, for what you say you’re trying to deal with, then why didn’t you pursue this same piece of legislation in the same manner in which you’re pursuing it today in this session?” Nasheed said.

“I did,” Emery responded, stressing others in his party declined to advance or support the bill because of “politics.”

Schupp said she supports the state’s Supreme Court as “another branch of government” overseeing impeachment trials as opposed to the Senate.

“Right now we are in a state where we have a super majority of Republicans in the Senate. The pendulum swings many ways, and … we are elected as partisans,” Schupp said. “I don’t ever want to feel as if the Senate is making a decision based upon insignificant numbers of people of one party or another.”

Schupp also lambasted Emery’s proposal for narrowing grounds for impeachment to just “corruption or crime in office.” Schupp said she would prefer “moral turpitude” still be considered grounds for impeachment, pointing to Greitens’ alleged activity before his resignation.

Emery told The Missouri Times he wasn’t quite expecting “that level of pushback because most folks haven’t paid that much attention to the impeachment process.” He also said Missouri’s history suggests the state isn’t likely to have to deal with the impeachment of a governor soon — despite the “anomaly” of last year’s controversy with Greitens.